We camels want bigger needles

18th April 2003 at 01:00
Peter Wilby doubts that Adam Swift's book on hypocrisy and school choice would be useful to parents (TES, March 21).

In my experience and that of friends in inner London, decisions about where to send children to secondary school are among the most difficult choices middle-class families face.

This may, as Wilby suggests, be because we are camels deep down, minimally concerned with needles, but that is not how it feels within these painful and emotional discussions.

Adam Swift's rigorous examination of when you can and cannot be legitimately partial to your own child's interests, at the expense of other children, is one of the best discussions of the issues raised by school choice I have read.

It is, in my view, an enormously helpful contribution to parents caught between differing and equally powerful concerns for family, community and social justice.

Reading it suggests ways to shrink the camel or grow the needle, and, in the light of the kind of dialogues across different types of school that London's new schools commissioner Tim Brighouse is suggesting, points to a new form of politics of engagement, not simple blame.

Elaine Unterhalter

School of educational foundations and policy studies

Institute of Education

London University

20 Bedford Way, London WC1

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